Bill Owen

Series 3 Episode 7: Isometrics and After

In which Foggy yearns for physical jerks and Compo puts something nasty in a matchbox…

Bob: After everything I said about Series 3 having a distinctly different tone, we’re suddenly back to a very traditional Summer Wine episode – in fact, I’m even tempted to wonder if this instalment might have started life as a Blamire episode, it’s so reminiscent of that earlier style. There’s a lot of meandering and musing in the countryside, a typically lusty Wainwright diatribe in an extended library sequence, and more than a few gritty political references. 

Andrew: I get the impression that Roy Clarke is a hoarder of ideas and gags, stockpiling material that could come in handy later on. As you say, this does feel a little like an episode from the first or second series, but there are examples from much later on as well… the first feature length episode being based upon an older novel, or the characters of Howard, Pearl and Marina being extracted from a touring stage show. That’s the benefit of everything being written by one man, I suppose; nothing goes to waste!

Operation Swordblade won't help you now...

Operation Swordblade won’t help you now…

Bob: And to cap it all, we begin with a marvelously morbid speech from Compo… ‘When tha’s dead, tha’s dead,’ he ponders, ‘I saw our Walter when that safe landed on him, and if he was having any sort of afterlife, he wasn’t enjoying it’. Again, just beautifully economic writing – from a single line we learn about Compo’s atheism, his dubious family background, the grisly death of his relative and his gruesomely black sense of humour. When Roy Clarke is on form, his dialogue is just unbeatable.

Having described this episode as being evocative of the earlier style, there is one major difference – Clegg’s character. We were frequently surprised in Series 1 by Clegg’s swearing and his use of some surprisingly fruity (and grumpy) turns-of-phrase, but in this episode he deliberately swerves to avoid even the most minor of cussing… ‘People who want to be nice are a pain in the ar-r-r-m…’ he stammers. And, having been the main instigator of adventures during the Blamire years, he now steadfastly refuses to join in with Foggy’s exercise regime. The gentrification of Clegg is complete!

Andrew: And he’s clearly been scarred by Blamire’s canoeing scheme. Having been forced to walk through the town in a swimming costume, Clegg has no desire to go through a similar experience. I love the lines, ‘I should be reluctant to start anything that might involve taking me vest off,’ and ‘This latest plot of yours has the squeak of plimsolls and the flash of nipples about it. Or is it the flash of plimsolls and the squeak of nipples?’ That pretty much sums up the reason I’ve stayed away from the swimming baths for the past ten years…

Bob: There’s a lovely scene in this episode where Clegg and Compo wander to a babbling brook without the isometrics-obsessed Foggy, and we get a real impression of just how close a friendship they’ve forged over the decades. ‘There’s some good rabbit droppings here!’ exclaims a gleeful Compo. ‘Fill your pockets kid, there’s nobody looking,’ grins Clegg and the warmth between the two characters is a joy to behold… two very disparate characters on the face of it, but Compo’s enthusiasm for the base and grotty aspects of life seems to bring out a childlike glow in Clegg as well.

You wonder what their relationship was like during the decades when Clegg was married? I can only picture a classic Bob and Terry relationship, with Mrs Clegg surely disapproving of Compo’s presence in ‘her’ Norman’s life. And yet, in these latter years, they’ve absolutely rekindled what was surely a close childhood bond. And utterly regressed to those halcyon days. It’s great to watch, and Sallis and Owen make a fine double act.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

Andrew: I can imagine the two barely seeing each other while Clegg was married, and don’t forget that Compo was married for a bit as well. It all contributed to the impression we have of them making up for lost time by spending so much of their retirement messing around in the countryside.

Bob: And brace yourself, but we have another historic Summer Wine ‘first’ to report… this is our inaugural sighting of Compo’s legendary matchbox! And it’s the mild-mannered librarian Miss Moody who has the honour of being his first female victim… screaming in horror as Compo shows her the terrors within. What a fabulous running joke, and how gloriously evocative of that bygone generation of Northern men – my childhood was filled with strange neighbours and elderly relatives who kept all manner of gruesome souvenirs for posterity… owl pellets, teeth, and full menageries of stuffed and pickled beasties.

Andrew: The tradition still continues. I’ve told you about my Mam and her box of loose teeth, haven’t I?

Bob: No. And you must feel absolutely at liberty to keep that information entirely to yourself.

Andrew: I genuinely have no idea of what Compo could have in that matchbox, though. I wonder if Clarke ever knew?

Bob: Interesting to see that Nora is now working in the café! There were suggestions in an earlier episode that she didn’t have much time for Ivy, but Sid (in a nice piece of continuity) now seems to have acquired the mobile chip van that he was saving for, and so Nora provides an extra pair of hands in the café – ‘because she doesn’t have recognisable boobs’, according to Ivy. I like to think the thawing of their relationship began during that idyllic weekend in Scarborough earlier in the series, but then it’s possible I think too much about these things.

Farewell, Mr Wainwright

Farewell, Mr Wainwright

Andrew: No, I think you’re on the money there. There was a nice sense of community in those episodes and, given that Ivy was on her best behavior at the Bed and Breakfast, I’d like to think she and Nora were brought together by forced civility. I think those two episodes actually kickstarted what later develops into the extended Summer Wine family, clearly marking out characters like Sid, Ivy, Nora and Wally as continuing regulars rather than guest artists.

Speaking of guest characters, we say goodbye to Mr. Wainwright once again, this time for good. It makes sense really, as the library isn’t used much now that the series has found its feet in the countryside and café, but I’ll miss his political spin on… well, pulling. It’s actually quite nice to leave him at this point. When first introduced, Wainwright was the intellectual dreamer with his eyes on a Eliza Doolittle protégé, but in this episode it’s clear that Miss Moody is more on the ball than he is.

Miss Moody: Elliot’s Wasteland is depressingly real, Mr Wainwright.

Wainwright: Absolutely. I can’t understand why the council doesn’t slap him with a compulsory purchase.

Bob: And, in a charming finish to a hugely enjoyable third series, our three heroes actually ride into the sunset on horseback. Surely Roy Clarke’s little homage to the golden age of the Hollywood Western? It’s amazing to contemplate that it’s barely half-a-dozen episodes since we were first introduced to Foggy Dewhurst, and yet the series now seems unthinkable without him – what a huge testament to Brian Wilde’s skills as a comic actor. We’re about to enter, arguably, the golden age of Summer Wine

Series 2 Episode 6: Ballad For Wind Instruments & Canoe

In which our trio pursue canoeing, and fail to drop Compo right in it…

Andrew: This really is the first of the stunt episodes. While there have been elements of physical comedy in the past, nothing matches up to a canoe ride. Still, though, the decision to take to the river in a canoe extends naturally from the trio’s status as layabouts. However, the sight of Compo dangling over a bridge, and of the trio in Victorian bathing suits, must be the broadest comedy the series has offered so far. A sign of things soon to come… it all looks rather appealing, though.

Bob: Yes, I thought the same… this is the first of the real ‘caper’ episodes, in which our heroes embark on an unlikely physical escapade that inevitably ends in disaster. Usually with the involvement of a large physical prop… and, of course, in this case it’s the canoe that drifts into their lives as they idle away an afternoon at the river’s edge.

Andrew: Speaking of stunts, this must be apex of Clegg’s adventurous spirit. The character I grew up with would be far too worried to go diving into the deep end of a stream, let along propose a canoeing expedition. I wonder if the incoming introduction of Foggy will prompt this evolution.

Drew's time-travelling Steve Pemberton

Drew’s time-travelling Steve Pemberton

Bob: Clegg’s very adventurous at this stage, isn’t he? This is the latest in a few examples of Clegg desperately wanting to break away from the confines of Holmfirth and go out… well, adventuring. ‘The key to thousands of tranquil miles of British pollution,’ he deadpans. ‘Mile after mile of waterway, we can get drowned almost anywhere…’ I wonder how long it’s meant to have been since his wife died at this point? You get the impression he’s been through a long recovery phase and is now keen to start enjoying himself and testing his mettle a little.

Andrew: Post-Traumatic Spouse Disorder.

Bob: Interesting that you mention Foggy, as I thought a few of Blamire’s lines in this episode pre-empted the introduction of Brian Wilde’s character. In particular, the opening scenes where he’s musing about his military career… ‘I’ve seen men delirious with jungle fever,’ he barks. ‘I’d like to see you lot try to make a camp in a mango swamp’. Roy Clarke definitely carried over some of this attitude into Foggy’s character, with a crucial difference… with Foggy, it’s made very clear that his military musings are almost all complete fantasy, and his ‘hard man’ trappings are constantly debunked and undermined by Clegg and Compo.

With Blamire, there’s no such debunking – so we have to assume that his stories are all actually true, and he’s genuinely a force to be reckoned with. It’s official – Blamire’s absolutely hard as nails!

Andrew: Has Steve Pemberton travelled back in time in order to play Arnpepper? It’s an uncanny physical and vocal resemblance. It’s a great character part, and the template for many Summer Wine eccentrics to follow.

Bob: Yes, Arnpepper is a fine character, although I didn’t spot the resemblance to Steve Pemberton! He looks more like Ronnie Corbett to me. His introduction is great, though…  drifting half-submerged along the river, two minutes behind his wayward canoe. ‘Howdo lads, have you seen a canoe?’ he shouts, casually, to our heroes. ‘What colour?’ deadpans Clegg. Brilliant stuff.

And it’s nice to see another scene in a disused farm building, as he attempts to dry off and bequeaths his canoe to our three heroes! John F Landy, who plays Arnpepper, did a lot of fine TV character acting in the 1970s and 80s. He pops up in Minder and Boon, amongst many others.

Montmorency not pictured...

Montmorency not pictured…

Andrew: Arnpepper mentions Look North. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Look North mentioned on television outside of… well, Look North. Now that it is mentioned I have a strange feeling of ownership. ‘That’s my local news programme, that is!’

Bob: I felt exactly the same, although I feel a bit of a party pooper in pointing out that the Yorkshire version of Look North is different to ours… it’s a separate programme made by BBC Leeds. But lines like that work wonders in grounding the show to a very specific place, and giving the characters a base in reality. Arnpepper is an eccentric, surreal character, and therefore exactly the kind of man that would want to get his five minutes of fame on regional TV! And oh, in the 1970s, regional TV was always more than happy to oblige.

There’s a nice line in that strange pie-eating scene in the café as well. Sid offers to pay for the pies, to which Ivy angrily retorts ‘You know we’re saving up for that mobile chip van!’ A van that I don’t think we actually see onscreen for another eight years, when it becomes a crucial part of the Getting Sam Home feature-length special that I know we both adore. Although that show is based on a novel that Roy Clarke wrote during these early years, so I guess the mobile chip van was heavily in his thoughts during 1974/75!

Andrew: Archaic reference alert! Compo refers to Blamire as Joe E. Brown during the biggest gob completion. That almost flew over my head, but rekindled some memories of old-time Hollywood comedy. Today, he’s probably best remembered for delivering the final line in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot. Here’s the gob in question:

‘Well… nobody’s perfect!’

Bob: Indeed, and I noticed Compo actually says Joe E Brown’s legendary line ‘Nobody’s perfect’ later in the episode! I wonder if Roy Clarke had seen Some Like It Hot around the time he wrote this episode, and thought he’d pay a subtle homage? Although Joe E Brown died in July 1973, so I suppose it might have been a personal tribute to Joe himself? Whatever, it’s a clever little touch.

As you’ve said, the closing scenes are very broad (especially the swimming costumes disguised with leaves and branches – far more conspicuous than just walking home in the costumes themselves!) but the canoeing scenes themselves are heavenly… the sun-dappled river, the shady, rustling trees and our three idle heroes drifting lazily into nothingness. It’s almost a metaphor for the show itself at this stage.

Series 2 Episode 4: Some Enchanted Evening

In which Wally Batty makes his entrance… and beats a hasty retreat…

Andrew: For this episode, I’ve decided to take a risk. Ever since moving in with me, my partner Emma has been exposed to far more wrinkled stockings that she ever signed up for. Still, she’ll happily accommodate Ronnie Hazlehurst blaring through the living room, and even professed to enjoy our trip to Holmfirth in 2009 (although I’m still not 100% convinced of that). Would asking her to review an episode alongside us be a step too far? There’s only one way to find out… say hello, Emma.

Emma: Hello. And I did enjoy Holmfirth, even if your Stephen Lewis impressions nearly sent me mad. Oh, and it was funny watching you and Bob wee in a school field.

Bob: I remember being caught short under a tree on a long walk back from the pub, but it wasn’t a school field was it? We were in the woods! Compo would have been proud of us.

Bob and Drew in Holmfirth, 2009. Gahaha, I 'ate you Butler, etc

Bob and Drew in Holmfirth, 2009. Gahaha, I ‘ate you Butler, etc


Andrew:
Anyway, what’s your background with Summer Wine?

Emma: I used to watch it with my Grandad on Sunday afternoons. We’d have tea, pickled onions, egg and salad. I’ve got mixed emotions, I suppose… happy memories, but it makes me miss my Grandad.

Andrew: This is our first, full-on taste of the Compo/Nora dynamic that will dominate much of the series from now on. He’s truly in heat!

Emma: He’s really seedy, isn’t he? And the thought of him and Nora? Urgh! I’m actually struggling to understand his accent as well. Does it soften as the series go on?

Andrew: It softens as the episode goes on!

Bob: Does it? I always thought Compo’s accent was really consistent – especially considering that Bill Owen was a rather well-spoken Londoner. I remember being fascinated as a kid by his archaic Yorkshire vocabulary… all those ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. I’ve always been intrigued by language and the way it varies through the generations. When I was a kid, I had an elderly next-door neighbour called Jim Cogan, who had been a coal miner in his working days and spoke with a very thick County Durham accent, and used vernacular that clearly dated from his youth… which, amazingly, was probably around the time of the First World War. I struggled to understand him sometimes when I was very small, and that both baffled and fascinated me. It’s a different accent, but the way that Compo speaks always reminds me a little of Jim.

Andrew: I definitely think there’s a slight difference between his accent during the location filming and during the studio sequences. Perhaps his accent naturally softened a little when performing in front of a London studio audience? As you say, though, he’s completely convincing throughout.

Bob's pin-up!

Bob’s pin-up!

Bob: There are couple of nice 1970s references in these early scenes as well. Compo’s TV delivery man ‘caught the manager adjusting the horizontal hold on her from the record counter’, and Blamire mentions whooping cough! I don’t suppose anyone encounters horizontal holds or whooping cough much these days, but it’s nice to know their legacy has been immortalised in this episode.

Emma: My mam had whooping cough just the other month! I didn’t hear her whoop that much, just cough. She’s fine now.

Bob: I feel terrible now.

Andrew: And here he is… Wally Batty. Bob’s idol.

Emma: Why? He’s a bit boring, isn’t he? Just ‘muh muh muh’ (Emma is attempting her own Stephen Lewis impersonation). He reminds me of Drew. No, not really!

Andrew: I don’t think I’d mind! Besides, I should remind you that – in our first six months of living together – both of us ran home to our mams’ houses for a bit of respite. Admittedly, we didn’t sneak out during the night, pants in hand, but the principle is the same.

Bob: Wally is brilliant! It’s a fabulous performance from Joe Gladwin – so downtrodden and gloomy, and yet with a fabulous rapier wit. He’s Eeyore in a flat cap and britches.

Nora: (Pointing to Compo) Are you going to let him do what he likes to me?

Wally: What’s there to like about it?

Brilliant. Again, I see a lot of Jim Cogan in him. Men who had married young, worked like a bastard every single day for fifty years, and now just wanted to eke out their remaining days with pipe, pigeons and ale. Bodies absolutely knackered by decades of back-breaking graft… I don’t know if it’s ever specified what Wally did for a living, but it was clearly bloody hard going and you can see every second of it etched into that face, and piled on top of those hunched shoulders.

When I see Wally Batty, I realise that I really did grow up in a very different era, even to you two fine people. I saw men like Wally all over the place in the 1970s… they were there, I absolutely knew them. But I don’t see them anymore.

Bob shows Emma the benefit of his experience, Holmfirth 2009

Bob shows Emma the benefit of his experience, Holmfirth 2009


Andrew:
Joe Gladwin is fantastic. I’d like to believe that he just was Wally Batty as I can’t imagine him playing anyone else. Character isn’t just written onto his face, it’s chiselled.

I find this whole episode a bit strange, overall. Again, there’s a bit of a nasty streak that one wouldn’t expect of the show’s later years. I guess it also proves that Roy Clarke never had a master plan, as the whole Nora/Compo plotline is played out in it’s entirety in the space of a single half hour. This is as close as they come to getting together, but both will be going through the motions for years to come.

Bob: Compo occasionally seems rueful about his bachelor status here… there are a couple of moments when it’s clear his longing isn’t just about the pleasures of the flesh. He’s envious of Wally having a woman to care for him, and look after him. We see him in bed, in his long johns, drinking brown ale and reading True Romances magazine as the radio plays out his request for Nora! Sent in under the pseudonym ‘Lonely Brown Eyes…’ its rather touching.

Andrew: But brilliantly undermined when the DJ refuses to read out Compo’s list of things he’d like to do with Nora and advises him to seek out a solicitor before attempting any of them. It’s a list you don’t want to spend too much time contemplating!

Bob: There’s a nice bit of sleight-of-hand from Roy Clarke in this episode as well… for a while we’re genuinely led to believe that Wally HAS left home for good, and that Compo is sparking up a fully-blown relationship with Nora. At this stage of the series we haven’t seen that much of their cat-and-mouse games, so we’ve no reason to believe that it couldn’t actually happen.

That swinging bachelor lifestyle in full

That swinging bachelor lifestyle in full

I love the scene in the café, where Blamire and Clegg contemplate life without Compo as part of their regular routine… Blamire has a rant about the unions, Clegg muses about the possibility of God returning to Earth as an insect, and the conversation just doesn’t work at all. They both as much as admit that they don’t actually have that much in common… they need the common factor of Compo to bounce off, to unite them as a trio. It’s very tight and disciplined characterisation from both writer and actors.  And a neat twist on the time-worn cliché of the teenage boy getting his first girlfriend and abandoning his mates at the drop of a hat. Here the ‘teenagers’ are all pushing sixty, but the same principle applies.

Andrew: Emma, as a lady of the female persuasion, what did you make of the representation of women here?

Emma: Well, they’re all lesbians or husband abusers. There are no desirable women, at least not by normal standards. Then again, going back to when I first saw Summer Wine, I can recognise a bit of my Grandma and Grandad in the relationships depicted here. A bit less abusive, but with a lack of love on the surface and something more underneath. My Grandad wasn’t a Wally, though, and gave more back in return!

Andrew: What did you think overall then?

Emma: It was fine. A bit slow, though… not much seems to happen.

Andrew: That’s kind of why we like it.

Emma: Yeah, but you’re both weird.

Bob: I’ve been trying to shoehorn this in for a while, but you’re right… Summer Wine works very differently from most other sitcoms of the era. You watch most 1970s sitcoms and they’re very formulaic. You have a small bunch of regular characters in a recognisable place, and every week there’s a plot device that’s set up in the first five minutes, spirals out of control to comedy effect with hilarious consequences, and is resolved in the last five minutes. Often with some kind of grand finale… a stunt, or a special routine, or some other way of hammering home a grand punchline. Then the reset switch is pressed so we can do the whole thing again next week.

Early Summer Wine isn’t like that at all. Lots of episodes have no real plot at all, they just… drift. Especially in these early series, our three heroes usually aren’t facing any particular problem or pursuing the kind of quest that would normally drive the plot along, they’re just wandering idly through town and countryside, and we follow them. Guest characters drift back and forth through the episodes, often contributing nothing whatsoever in traditional plot terms, but simply adding colour and depth to the world we’re being presented with. There’s often no natural end to the episodes, they just fade out with a gentle fizzle. It’s all about character and atmosphere at this stage, and it’s a breath of fresh air. It feels real, like we’re eavesdropping on randomly-selected thirty minute segments of these characters’ lives and daydreams. It’s absolutely why I like it.

Andrew: Summer Wine land definitely feels like it has existed long before the cameras start rolling, and I think it’s mainly the multitude of acquaintances and passers-by who drift in and out the episodes that contribute to this. It’s just a lovely place to spend some time, even if it can be grim. Will you come back for more, later?

Emma: I guess I wouldn’t object too much. I’ll go back to Holmfirth if we can stay at the same place, with the nice breakfasts and mad dogs.

Bob: I’d forgotten about the dogs! I’d love to go back. We need to stay somewhere with a TV and DVD player so we can watch a couple of episodes while we’re there!

Series 1 Episode 6: Hail Smiling Morn Or Thereabouts

S1E6b

In which Blamire whips out his brownie and asks Compo for a better exposure…

Andrew: I had no idea that Clegg had two houses during the course of the series. This first one doesn’t seem as fitting somehow. That sofa is far too 1970s for a start.

Bob: You’re right, but… it’s not just Clegg’s house, is it? It’s his marital home. We’re not sure how long it’s been since his wife died, but it’s clearly still HER house… look at the patterned wallpaper, the plush sofa, the ornaments and soft furnishings. Clegg’s later house is a single man’s home, but this one has seen a woman’s touch. It’s nicely done.

Blink and you'll miss her... the late Mrs Clegg!

Blink and you’ll miss her… the late Mrs Clegg!

Andrew: During this episode, I think we get our one and only look at Mrs. Clegg. Compo says, ‘She were always ugly, then?’ but – to be fair to the woman – the fleeting glimpse we get of her wedding picture reveals a slim and fairly attractive bride. Perhaps she was just ugly on the inside? But just check out the lingering look Clegg gives her photograph at the end of that scene. Despite all of his bravado, he does seem to miss her, or at least to have admired her.

Bob: I love Clegg’s lengthy anecdote about his and his wife’s aborted camping expedition, where she wept and ‘pined for her draining board’. Lovely writing again, and superbly played by Peter Sallis. And yes… the passing look that he gives the photo is very touching. You could blink and you’d miss it, but the love and the loss is all there in a brief, beautiful moment. I wonder if that second of silence was scripted, or if it’s pure Peter Sallis? A gorgeous character moment.

Straight from Blamire’s Box Brownie

Andrew: I’d love to get hold of some of the photographs that Blamire takes during the course of this episode. Moreso than the staged publicity shots, they really seem to capture the playfulness of our trio when they start mucking about. It would seem unlikely, but it would be nice to think that those negatives are still locked up in a BBC archive somewhere.

Bob: That’s a fab little sequence. I think the gentle pastimes that they pursue in these early episodes are more effective and believable than the stunts that came in later years. There’s actually a scene in the Spring Fever episode, two weeks earlier, where they’re idly drifting down the river on a raft made from planks and empty barrels. And it’s just casually dropped into the episode as an incidental feature… a bit of background to the REALLY important stuff – the dialogue. Same with the photography here… it’s very nicely done.

Blamire: She married a University lecturer!

Clegg: Well don’t hold that against her, anybody can make a mistake.

Andrew: That’s my day job! I suppose I should be offended by Clegg’s comment, but to be honest I can sort of see his point…

Bob: Yeah, but university lecturers were GENUINELY weird in the early 1970s. Most people would never have actually seen one outside of the Open University on BBC2. The nearest things to universities anywhere near me in the 1970s were Teesside Polytechnic and Cleveland Art College, and even those were seen as dangerously subversive refuges for hippies, communists and other similar beardy-weirdy types. Breeding grounds for potential Mr Wainwrights! It was only in the 1990s that ‘going to uni’ became the almost universal experience that it is now.

Camping it up!

Camping it up!

Some more lovely long-forgotten vocabulary in this episode… Compo says ‘Speak up, we can’t hear you in the Fourpennies’ to an arguing Sid and Ivy – presumably a reference to the cheap seats at a theatre? And Ivy delivers a classic put-down to Sid – ‘Three pints of ale, and you think you’re Jack Benny’. I wonder how archaic that sounded in 1973? The height of Benny’s popularity had arguably been thirty years earlier, and yet… it’s same as making reference now to someone who was popular in 1981. Kenny Everett, or Russ Abbott, maybe? Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey.

Andrew: Are there many abandoned farm buildings scattered along the countryside these days, or have they all been converted into stylish apartments and getaway cottages by the team from Grand Designs?

Bob: No, they’re out there. I walk a lot on the North Yorkshire Moors, and there are still some gloriously rugged and desolate little places. Fancy watching Series 2 in one of them? I’ll bring my laptop…

 

Series 1 Episode 3: Pâté and Chips

S1E3b

In which our trio visit a Stately Home with Compo’s nephew and family…

Andrew: A very rare trip out of Holmfirth in this episode. Actually, from what I’ve read of your childhood, this is how I imagine your family outings. Just with fewer kids. Any truth to that?

Bob: Yes. I find all of these early episodes staggeringly evocative of my early childhood. The black, soot-stained buildings, the chugging, unreliable cars, and the security of family life, for better and for worse. We get to meet unspecified relatives of Compo in this episode – the charming Chip and Connie and their kids – and they reminded me so much of the young-ish relatives that surrounded my childhood in the mid 1970s. The uncles, aunts and cousins who – by the time they hit 25 – were securely married with a small army of kids and a job that they’d reasonably expect to hold down for the next forty years of their lives.

It’s gone now. Look at me, for crying out loud… I’m 37, single, childless and spend my working life effectively messing about. And most of my friends have similar lifestyles. And yet a significant chunk of me pines for Chip and Connie’s life. There’s a great moment in the pub towards the end of the episode where they exchange a loving look and a very tender peck on the lips. I’ve no idea if it was scripted, but it’s a lovely, lovely touch.

Andrew: There’s a nice little moment of melancholy in this episode that I didn’t actually spot the first time I watched it. Just before they are about to set off for the country home, Ivy is holding Connie and Chip’s baby.

Ivy: We’ve got none you know. All I can do is mother him.

(Gestures to Sid)

Ivy's left holding the baby...

Ivy’s left holding the baby…

Chip cracks a joke about letting her have one of theirs, and says how he thinks everyone should be sterilised, but as Ivy is waving goodbye to Compo’s extended family there’s a very poignant musical cue that suggests something telling about the fact that she and Sid have never had kids. It’s quite a beautiful little moment, combining fine writing, acting and composing, and it adds great depth to the supporting characters. Taking this into consideration really sheds new light on their relationship.

Bob: Oh, I didn’t spot that at all! Eagle-eyes Smith strikes again. I do love the way that we’re slowly discovering more about these characters, but at a charmingly slow pace. I think this is the first episode to suggest that Compo carries a torch for Nora Batty, isn’t it? He’s stolen her washing line to hold up his trousers, and says ‘I thought I’d wear it close to me skin’.

And I loved the scene in the café, where Compo and Chip both eat bread and dripping. Again, just gloriously evocative of its time… I don’t suppose anyone under the age of 30 has any idea about ‘dripping’ any more (do you, Drew? Come on, be honest) but I vividly remember it being a staple part of the North-Eastern diet at least up until the late 1970s. It was edible, so it got eaten. Waste not, want not. 

Andrew: Dripping’s the stuff that comes off meat when you cook it, isn’t it?

Inspecting Blamire's valuables

Inspecting His Lordship’s valuables

Bob: Well done! He said, slightly patronisingly. And another sign of the times… the ripple of excitement amongst the stately home tour party when it seems as though His Lordship is about to make an appearance! There’s hushed deference, and Clegg even frantically combs his hair. I remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, when every street around my house was bedecked in red, white and blue bunting, and the high street became a carnival, complete with a float procession and a fairground. Unthinkable in 2010, the world is just that tad too cynical.

Andrew: Taking of charming moments, during one scene where the trio are walking towards the café, Michael Bates checks and adjusts his watch when the church bell goes off. Now that’s either good dubbing or fine improvising, and I can’t imagine that the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop went anywhere near Last of the Summer Wine.

Bob: Sensational! I missed that as well. Such a fine actor. It’s lovely little touches like that that show you how quickly they began to inhabit these characters.

Andrew: Classic line here:  ‘I should fetch a shovel old lad, he’s crapped all over t’carpet’.

Bob: Indeed! Swiftly followed by a lovely poignant exchange in the pub, as they drunkenly recall their wartime romantic exploits.

Blamire: It soon passes, doesn’t it?

Clegg: Aye. You don’t get a lot of time given for being 19.

Roy Clarke at his best, and a finely-timed moment of melancholy. Has Blamire been perennially single? I had the impression he’d been married, but this episode suggests his entire romantic life consists of a few chaste exchanges over three decades earlier. It’s a very downbeat ending.

Series 1 Episode 2: Inventor of the Forty Foot Ferret

S1E2b

In which Compo is persuaded to actually visit church…

Andrew: Before we begin properly I’d just like to note the title of this episode. I love ferrets and I think Compo is partly to blame. As a kid, his descriptions of the slinky little angels made them seem so exciting… you could stick them down your trousers!

Bob: You’re a freak, Smith.

Andrew: This episode is all about class and religion, really. You have Blamire as  the bossy, middle class church-goer, Compo as the scruffy, sub-working class atheist and Clegg as… well, just Clegg really. He gets my favorite lines of the episode; ‘Who needs eternity? Suppose you’re waiting for a bus’. Again, this is a series that has come to be identified with the likes of Songs of Praise, but in these early episodes Clarke is questioning whether organised religion has any point at all!

A theological debate in action

A theological debate in action

Bob: I think the depiction of faith in this episode actually speaks volumes about early 1970s society. Blamire, every inch the conservative Christian, is never the butt of the joke… instead, it’s Compo – gauchely suspicious of the church and its conventions – that we’re encouraged to laugh at. Christian faith in the early 1970s was still a cornerstone of British life, and it’s treated seriously here.

For an extra bit of poignancy… the church they visit is clearly St John’s in Holmfirth, where Bill Owen is now buried. They walk very close to his current resting place in one scene.

Andrew: This isn’t angry, boundary-breaking satire, though. The characters take the mickey out of each other, but in the end they’ve all ended up in the same predicament and – despite what they say or believe – they’re just mates. If anything Clarke, seems to be encouraging acceptance and tolerance. Sort of progressive for its time, really.

On the other hand, there is a very 1970s rape joke and Clegg says the word ‘poof’! In the light of this, I take back everything I said about the use of the word ‘orgasm’ earlier in the series. The word ‘poof’ is the one that feels out of place now.

Bob: Both of those lines gave me a jolt as well! Clegg comments that Blamire’s mother ‘brought up a little poof’, and Compo tales the wartime tale of ‘Hilda Mason and those four Yanks… everybody knew it were rape, but she were never prosecuted’. Did you spot the delightfully incongruous swearing in the café as well? Compo tells Sid that his wife left him for a ‘pissing Pole’.

Abandoned Fa

Barnstorming!

All just more examples of the grittiness that gradually dissipated as the series continued, I guess. In that context, the portrayal of Mr Wainwright, the librarian, and his married fancy lady is interesting. They’re clearly the prototype for Howard and Marina, and yet while that latter relationship feels like a bit of playground kiss-chase (they never seem to get further than a chaste cuddle… actually, do they ever even kiss?) the extra-marital affair here is much more lusty, and we’re clearly led to believe there’s been some distinctly heavy petting going on behind that mahogany counter.

I love the location work in this episode, too. We get out into the countryside, but it’s WINTER – not something we see a lot of in latter-day Summer Wine. It’s bleak and windy and desolate, and we spend a lot of time in a delightfully derelict and ramshackle old mill. Was this the workplace that Compo spent much of his life avoiding? I’d like to think so.

And yegods… Jane Freeman’s legs in the cycling scene at the end are truly a sight for sore eyes.

Series 1 Episode 1: Short Back and Palais Glide

S1E1e

In which our heroes rid Compo of evil spirits, lose a front door key and attempt to attend a formal dinner dance…

Andrew: I like the way that the first episode of the series proper opens with a shot of 1970s kids mucking about on a field, because even in these early episodes the theme of pensioners reverting to adolescence is quite clear. Our three main characters giggle over adult magazines, loiter at bus stops and fail to gain entry to a posh dance; it’s like an episode of The Inbetweeners with an old-age cast!

Bob: As for the plot, it’s fairly light… Blamire gets his hair cut, Compo loses his house key while being upended in the library to shake evil spirits from his head, and the trio blag their way into the dinner dance to retrieve it from Wainwright the prissy librarian – before retreating, typically, to the backroom where Sid ferries them bottled beer and chicken butties from the buffet.

But it doesn’t matter, it’s a hugely enjoyable start to the series proper. Good to see Compo flick an authentic 1970s V-sign at the end, as well. Nobody gives proper V-signs any more!

Look at the muck in 'ere!

Look at the muck in ‘ere!

Andrew: Actually, with that V-sign and Clegg’s eyebrow-raising mention of rape, it’s probably worth noting that the first three episodes of the series have awarded a ‘12’ certification from the BBFC. I’m not trying to suggest that this means that the early years of Summer Wine are a den of filth, but they are a little at odds with the cosy, family-friendly, inoffensive reputation that the series gained in its later period. Just look at that topless calendar at the back of the barber’s shop!

Bob: And more fabulous early 70s grottiness! Have a good butchers at the café in this, it’s absolutely filthy. The walls are coated in damp, grime and cobwebs. Look at the screengrab… there’s decades worth of congealed muck and chip fat on that back wall! A fantastic double act from Sid and Ivy, though, and you forget how much of an important figure Sid was in these early series… he has the one line in this episode that made me laugh out loud:

Ivy: I came here to dance, but fat chance of that with you. You don’t even know how to hold me.

Sid: (Making a strangling motion) Put your neck in there…

Mr Wainwright approves a withdrawal

Roy Clarke’s love of odd Northern dialogue shines through constantly. The devil is in the detail, and Clegg gets most of the best lines. He talks of Compo making a nest, a ‘simple construction of mattress fluff and old Sporting Chronicles’. He pricks dinner dance doorman Charlie Harris’ pomposity with the splendid riposte ‘I’ve seen you making imitation rude noises for the entertainment of the Young Conservatives’. Although, a heartbeat later, Compo’s perfectly-timed aside, ‘And your Eileen had to get married’ is laced with brilliant old-school Northern nose-tapping knowingness.

I loved Mrs Partridge’s comment about her 12-year-old son as well… ‘he’s never been strong, and everything goes to his chest’. Roy Clarke’s ear for the rhythms and absurdities of speech is just perfect. I could hear my mother saying that line, word for word, in my own grimy, early 1970s childhood.  Does anyone talk like that any more? 

The Pilot: Of Funerals and Fish

In which our trio look for ways to while away their autumn years…

(NOTE: Our thoughts on Last of the Summer Wine’s first episode were first posted to this site way back in 2014. They were revised and expanded as part of the preparation for the first Summer Winos book in 2020)

Andrew: Here we go, then; Episode One! From the get-go I can tell you that this isn’t quite the series that I remember from growing up. Last of the Summer Wine, in my minds eye, is bathed in sunlight on a bright and clear Sunday afternoon, but the landscape we open upon is overcast, with the wind blasting the grass on the hillsides of Holmfirth. This is definitely not the slickly-produced sitcom that I remember, either. A lady in the studio audience coughs her way through the theme tune and nobody thought to bother taking it out!

Bob: Yes, it’s got a very different feel to the series of the 1980s and beyond. No sweeping vistas of rolling countryside here… we get claustrophobic back yards and alleyways, and the authentic grime of an early 1970s industrial Yorkshire town. I’ve wondered recently why the streets of my 1970s childhood, on TV and in photographs, look so different to their modern-day counterparts. And I think I’ve cracked it… it’s the soot! Holmfirth in 1973 is a riot of smoking chimneys, and the blackened buildings are testament to the days when central heating was considered an expensive luxury. In these early years, it gives the whole show a much grittier, grottier feel than the one we came to know. So this isn’t the Summer Wine of hillsides and child-like old men in bathtubs, it’s the Summer Wine of disillusionment and middle-aged, working class boredom. And we begin the episode with a penniless, wheezing Compo having his ancient, rented TV repossessed. In the words of the eye-rolling Nora Batty outside, “it must be Tuesday”.


Andrew:
How young does Bill Owen look?! And by young, I obviously mean middle-aged, greasy and knackered. Still, he’s very much not an old man, is he? The same goes for Kathy Staff. Mrs Batty might be a bit sour-faced, but she’s far from the intimidating battleaxe the country came to know and love. And did she just refer to her husband as “Harold”? Given that we later meet her fella and he’s called Wally, does this mean that the pilot isn’t canon? This is the sort of important thing we need to get to the bottom of, Bob!

Bob: She did! She definitely did! The entire 37-year-run is now invalidated in my eyes. Let’s call it quits right here. 

Andrew: I know I started this entry with a moan about somebody coughing during the theme tune, but the honesty of the way in which audience laughter was recorded at this point in television history is something I really like. You can hear real individuals on the laugh track; people like the woman who cackles madly when Nora and her friends make reference to the fact that Compo’s wife ran off with a Pole. Nobody else in the audience finds this fact as funny as this one woman and, though we’ll never know, why we can assume she must have felt some sort of personal connection to the gag!

Bob: Maybe she’d run off with a Pole herself? I like that personal touch too; there’s a woman in the studio audience of Monty Python’s Flying Circus who laughs riotously and very conspicuously through several consecutive episodes. I’ve since seen suggestions that it might have been John Cleese’s then-wife (and future Fawlty Towers star) Connie Booth! 

Andrew: I’m sure somebody will contact us and tell me I’m talking complete rubbish, but the use of handheld camerawork in these opening scenes strikes me as very peculiar. It lends the scene a slight – and I do mean slight – documentary feel that I wasn’t expecting!

Bob: Stanley Kubrick learned everything he knew from Jimmy Gilbert. The personalities of our three main characters is established very swiftly; we’ve already seen that Compo lives in a state of shambolic impoverishment, and – as he meets up with Blamire – we get a feeling of the latter’s haughty, detached air; a man whose pretensions to the the officer classes have not been diminished by his return to civilian life.

And then we meet Clegg, chatting on a freezing churchyard bench with a hangdog vicar, and describing how he has recently observed a man carefully carrying a tiny, quivering bird to his hungry cat… “Life’s like that,” he muses. “A complex texture of conflicting moralities.” It’s smalltown, Northern philosophy writ large. There’s a real whiff of Alan Bennett about so many of Clegg’s early musings.

We see him tending the grave of his wife, too… “Edith Clegg, 1900-1971”. So Clegg is a relatively recent widower, and – if we assume that Clegg and Peter Sallis are the same age here – he was 21 years younger than his late wife. That rings true, actually. I can imagine the wistful, idealistic Clegg being mothered by an older woman who was far more capable than him of dealing with the grim practicalities of everyday life.

The vicar, by the way, is played by Michael Stainton, who went on to be the dad in Metal Mickey. I felt it important to make that a matter of public record.

Andrew: Last of the Summer Wine always had a strong bond with the town and countryside in which it was filmed, and this is established from the very beginning – the pilot opens with a full eight-and-a-half minute location sequence before our trio head into a disused chapel and the production switches to the videotaped confines of Television Centre. That’s a hell of a lot of filmed material for a fledgling sitcom, isn’t it?

Bob: I could have been fooled by the disused chapel, to be honest! Even the specially-built sets reek of 1970s British grime. 

Andrew: This is all surprisingly topical, isn’t it? Not in a “news of the day” sense, but in how willing Clarke’s script is to grapple with politics and religion. In fact, on the religious front, it’s quite an interesting view of Britain as a Christian country.

Bob: Yes, Blamire in particular seems to have a leaning towards staunch Anglican traditions – but it isn’t especially presented as a prominent part of his character; it’s just there, in the background. Which I suspect is how large swathes of the population saw the Church of England in the 1970s; even if they weren’t devout church-goers, it was still part of the tapestry of everyday life. And if we want more vintage bleakness… Canon Jamieson, as commemorated on a plaque on the chapel wall, was – according to Clegg – “more than democratic in his ways with the choirboys”. Again, this is dark stuff.

I do love the “talky” nature of all this, though. Despite the frequent use of real-life locations, this would work perfectly as a theatre production. There’s no plot to speak of, it’s simply 27 minutes of perfectly observed character-building, and brilliantly-scripted conversation. 

Andrew: “Somebody’s got to think about these things, and who’s got more time than we have?” muses Clegg. I struggle to think of another pilot that lays out its premise as neatly as that. In just one sentence, Roy Clarke has set the template for 37 series of television!

Bob: Into the library, and I guess lots of hardcore fans will be aware of the fact that Last of the Summer Wine’s early working title was The Library Mob, with this location providing the hub for our main trio’s daily loafing… even more so than the legendary café in these early years. And, whereas in later episodes they would face the wrath of Ivy and her buns of iron, in these initial episodes it’s the head librarian, the avowed communist Mr Wainwright, who is their nemesis. And good grief, what an introduction we get to him… his opening appearance sees him emerging from below the library’s main desk, where the clear implication is that he’s been – ahem – thumbing through the lower portions of his married assistant, Mrs Partridge! “I have to touch you… it’s a need…” 

Andrew: I love Blake Butler’s performance as Mr. Wainwright. The repressed sexual energy of the character is bursting from the tip of his Trotsky-esque beard. Although for all his bluster about middle-class morality and lefty politics, his choice of D.H. Lawrence as Mrs Partridge’s gateway to erotica is charmingly middle-of-the-road!

Bob: It is by modern standards, but Penguin Books were prosecuted and taken to court for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover only thirteen years before this episode was broadcast. It had been untouched by a mainstream publisher for 32 years until then, and the 1959 Obscene Publications Act had a field day with a book riddled with language fit only for the confines of the billiard parlour. It’s right mucky, it is. They should put that on the cover.

Mrs Partridge is nicely played by Rosemary Martin too, who was a regular face on TV in the 1970s and 1980s. She conveys just the right blend of timidity and sexual frustration. “My husband likes to watch The High Chaparral, then I have to get his Ovaltine.”

And this is the strangest erotic moment I’ve ever seen: Mr Wainwright is below the desk, clearly – ahem – “attending” to Mrs Partridge, but reaches up to grab a little green book from the counter, which he then… does something with. Something that drives her to even further heights of desire. As someone who occasionally collects vintage books, I’m going to guess that one would now be described as having “light foxing.”

Andrew: Clegg isn’t the timid character we’ll grow to love is he? Just look at the swagger he displays as he flagrantly lights up a cigarette beside the library’s “No Smoking” sign, and his defiance as he stubs it out into an inkpot under Mr Wainwright’s nose. It’s only right that he be thrown out of the library!

Bob: And when he was nine, he was intimate with Muriel Fairfax in a sandpit. The man has hidden shallows. Compo too is a darker character than in later years; he’s still incredibly bitter about the “scabby Pole” that ran off with his wife – it makes him genuinely angry, although I’m assuming it happened decades ago… possibly even during the war?

Andrew: There’s a stock question that actors in long-running series always get asked on chat shows – “When you first started working on Insert Long-Running Show Here, did you have any idea you’d still be talking about it so many years later?” Almost all of them answer that they had no idea what kind of success the series would enjoy, but this must be especially true for Jane Freeman. Her role as Ivy in this pilot is incredibly small, but she ended up playing the part for almost four decades!

Bob: I know… it’s literally seconds, but she sets her stall out. She’s in a foul temper from the very start. Nice to get an early glimpse of John Comer too, as her dry-witted husband Sid. He’d been a hugely prolific TV and film actor from the late 1950s onwards – he starred alongside Peter Sellers in I’m Alright Jack and Heavens Above!, and he’d made regular appearances in Coronation Street and Z-Cars, amongst many others. But, as with so many actors, it was Last of the Summer Wine that really cemented him as a household favourite, at a comparatively late age. He was nearly fifty when the series started, but to our generation he’ll always be “Sid from the café”.  

Andrew: Cast away from the library and then the café, our trio very much feel like schoolkids turfed out of the house, bored during the last days of the summer holidays – just wandering aimlessly in search of something interesting. The honesty with which Holmfirth is depicted continues too, as Cyril treads in dog muck (probably white), and the trio make their way to a stream that’s absolutely infested with midges. This isn’t a plot point at all, the location is genuinely swarming with them.

Bob: Midges were everywhere in the 1970s! Gardens were always full of them, for no discernable reason, and my arms and legs were permanently covered in bites from the vicious little buggers! They were the hoodlums of the insect world, just hanging around on street corners looking to cause bother. Where did they all go? Is there now a Midge Retirement Home where they all recline in tiny bath chairs, swapping stories of the famous people they’ve bitten? “Did I ever tell you, Ethel, I once took a lump out of Alvin Stardust’s ankle…”

Despite the infestation, our trio catch a tiny, tiddler fish and keep it in a jar. I’d be outraged if modern kids inflicted such an indignity on a poor creature like this, but in 1973 this was an integral part of any kids’ summertime jolly. Again, it’s that school holiday feeling, isn’t it? They’re absolutely regressing to activities they would have previously enjoyed five decades years earlier.


And feel free to put Compo’s pub conversation about the heavenly genitalia of angels on our “That Would Never Have Happened In The Later Series” list, too. This really feels like late-night comedy, and yet it was broadcast on BBC1 at 8pm on a Thursday evening. We’d come a long way since the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. 

Andrew: Outside the pub, who should our trip spot emerging from Lover’s Lane but the Mr Wainwright and Mrs Partridge? Clegg reckons that’ll provide enough leverage to allow our trio back into the library the following day.

Bob: I laughed out loud at Compo’s musings once they return to their spiritual home amongst the bookshelves. “Do you think I’m in love with Nora Batty? Or is it just sex?” The thought of the pair of them actually doing it… good grief, I think even Mr Wainwright’s ardour would be dampened. And then a line that took us both by surprise! “Cyril,” says Clegg to an aghast Blamire, “Your idea of orgasm is a quick flick through Burke’s Peerage!” 

Andrew: The use of the word “orgasm” really shook me, as it seems completely out-of-step with the Summer Wine that I grew up with as a kid in the 1990s. The sort of people who now praise the series for its “family values” and gentle comedy must surely have forgotten all the political, religious and sexual debate going on in these early years! Thinking about it, I quite like the fact that the BBC celebrated the end of the series with a Songs of Praise special – when it actually began with two of the principle characters questioning the nature of faith!

Bob: Can I just point out that I’m glad the episode ends with that poor captured fish being returned to its native stream? 

Andrew: Clegg departs in search of sausage for his tea, and we end exactly as we began, with the credits rolling over the same view of the Holme Valley. It’s only just dawned on me that there’s been a beautifully subtle theme running through the entirety of this episode. When we’re introduced to Compo, his neighbours know the day of the week because his television is being taken away. When we meet Clegg, he enters proceedings just as a coffin in a hearse makes its exit. The trio are thrown out of the library, and then regain access to it. They catch a tiddler and let it go again. They part at the end, knowing that they’re going to go through the same routine the very next day.  This isn’t presented a something tragic – it’s just a fact of life (and death), and in a way it comes across as a reassuring comfort for three characters who’ve been left behind by society. 

The episode has achieved what some of my very favourite sitcom episodes manage – it’s a perfectly self-sufficient piece of television. If this pilot was as far as Last of the Summer Wine ever got, it would still hold up as a beautiful piece of work, and we’d feel like we really got to know these characters well.

Bob: Absolutely. It’s a superb-written and performed piece of TV. And the premise is absolutely explicit and perfectly encapsulated… it’s about three fifty-something men whose working and family lives are effectively over, reverting to childhood because they have no other way of passing the time. It’s both funny and dark, and it positively drips with melancholy. And it’s obvious from the start that the three main protagonists are perfectly cast… Bates, Sallis and Owen make their characters utterly believable and three-dimensional from their very first lines. The lengthy, rambling, perfectly-performed dialogue takes us completely into their world – their whimsical, filth-filled childhoods, their frustrating, slightly shop-soiled adult lives. It owes more to Alan Bennett and Ken Loach than anything we ever saw over the ensuing 37 years.

Andrew: Oh, and the waste ground on which the trio bid their farewells is now the site of a Co-op car park. How’s that for progress?

Bob: Get off your high horse, Smith. We always park there. 

Andrew: One down, two-hundred-and-ninety-four to go…

Series 6 Episode 6: Serenade for Tight Jeans and Metal Detector


In which Compo has a change of scenery…

Bob: As you know, there’s very little in life makes me happier than a good non-sequitur, so the opening lines to this episode put a huge smile all over my beardy, middle-aged chops.

Foggy: I understand the Co-Op has some big reductions in winceyette pyjamas.

Compo: Nigel Hinchcliffe’s nose has turned septic.

Clegg: Two thirds of the human nose could be below the surface.

Alright, let me witlessly dissect these little moments of genius. Foggy’s line is magnificent. He doesn’t start with ‘I’ve heard…’ or ‘Did you know…’, he says ‘I understand’. ‘I UNDERSTAND’!!! Implying that his knowledge of winceyette pyjama reductions has been imparted via a series of clandestine espionage raids conducted by special forces at dawn. In the flaming Co-Op. Two words that speak volumes about his delusions of military grandeur.

And ‘winceyette’! Does anyone ever say ‘winceyette’ any more? Foggy is so precise about every aspect of his mundane existence that he even has to specify the pyjama material in question, lest anyone assume he was sullying his insider nightwear knowledge with references to clearly inferior nylon products. Although such pyjamas were definitely called ‘flannelette’ when I were a lad. Still, the principle of raised-nap cotton fabric is the same. 

Upside Down… Clegg, you turn me…

Andrew: I must admit that I had to take to Google in order to find out what ‘winceyette’ actually means. It’s not just raised-nap, it’s a cotton flannelette with a nap on both sides, apparently. You know, it’s been ages since I’ve had a nice pair of pyjamas. Do you think one of our readers might send some in if I put the call out?

Bob: Only if you put Nigel Hinchcliffe in the names database. Owner of a septic nose. Which was nearly the title of a Top 40 hit for Yes in November 1983. 

Andrew: When Foggy asks, ‘Is that a view or is that a view?’ I thought to myself, ‘Yes, Foggy, it is.’ Alan Bell really knows how to make the most of the natural beauty of his locations, even during his earliest episodes.

Bob: Yes, there’s definitely been a deliberate decision to show off the locations a lot more.

Andrew: Outside Dougie’s Second Hand Shop, Foggy and Clegg shake Compo down for some cash. Literally. Nothing tumbles from our scruffy hero’s pockets as he is hoisted upside-down, though. Where else would he keep his betting money but in his wellies?

Compo: That don’t half make your eyeballs heavy. Suppose they dropped out?

Foggy: It wasn’t THEM dropping out that we were worried about.

Is that our first ball-gag since Forked Lightning? Also, how many extra site visitors will be sent our way via Google thanks to our use of the phrase ball-gag?

Bob: I think we’ll double our usual traffic. So possibly as many as seven.

Andrew: Foggy arrives at the café some time before Compo and Clegg, who we are told are lagging behind. We don’t often get to observe Foggy on his own, do we? Nothing particularly significant happens during this scene, but it’s odd to see him have a one-on-one with Sid.

Foggy reveals he has installed a new set of trousers on Compo, and Sid is shocked enough to send the items he is holding clattering to the floor. This prompts Ivy to emerge and, when told that Sid has received some startling news, presumes that her husband has been ‘seen with’ Mrs. Jessop! What do we think then? Is Ivy paranoid or does Sid play away from time to time?

Those new trousers in full

Bob: I reckon he has – years ago – and Ivy has never let it go. She’s deeply insecure, and desperate to hang onto him by any means necessary. ‘I’ve been expecting something like this ever since you started reading Harold Robbins’ she sniffs, the second Summer Wine reference I can remember to the grandaddy of the bonkbuster novel. Was Mrs Clarke a fan, do we think? The Carpetbaggers was the Fifty Shades of Grey of its time.

Nice scene in the café too, with a classic Clarke trope – the quickfire repeating of an unusual word of phrase by several characters, to almost surreal comic effect. Here, Nora accuses Sid of startling her by ‘rearing up’… the springboard for a delightful mini-sketch in which the phrase ‘rearing up’ is used over and over with increasingly exaggerated delivery. Clarke does this a lot – I have fond memories of an episode of Open All Hours in which Granville’s ‘dangler’ (calm down at the back there, it’s a medallion) gets similar treatment. The word becomes funny in itself, simply by dint of the repetition – but it’s important not to overstay your welcome with these things. It’s artfully done here, though. 

Andrew: Then in walks a post ‘trouser transplant’ Compo. Now, have I missed something or is there absolutely no explanation as to why Foggy chooses to do this now? Whatever the reason, Compo looks distinctly uncomfortable in his new skinny jeans. As a man who has been forced into a pair by his far more stylish partner, I have all the sympathy in the world for him. I believe they were first developed by the Spanish Inquisition.

Bob: You what??! No-one over the age of 19 should be wearing skinny-fit ANYTHING. Hey, a reference to ‘Bickerdyke’s dog’! That’s from Series 4 Episode 6, Greenfingers. Summer Wine is finally eating itself!

Andrew: We also get to learn a little more about Dougie from the Second Hand Shop, who has somehow managed to talk Clegg into purchasing a metal detector. Knowing what is to come down the line, it’s very easy to see the unseen second hand shop proprieter as a proto-Auntie Wainwright, another character who, in Sid’s words, ‘can sell owt’.

Foggy finds a Roman beer can

Foggy finds a Roman beer can

Bob: Foggy is mocked by his colleagues for getting excited about ‘buried treasure’, but metal detecting was a big hobby for men of a certain age in the 1970s! Seismic events like the discovery of the Mildenhall Treasure would have made a big impression on men of Foggy’s age.

It was an era when all kinds of oddities could be found with only the bare minimum of digging. Even in built-up towns, much of the ground remained undeveloped, and many deeply-buried treasures had been unsettled by wartime bombing and lay undiscovered on sites that had stayed largely untouched for decades. As a kid, I remember discovering centuries-old coins and the fractured remains of Victorian pottery while scrabbling around in our own back garden.

Andrew: I once found a copy of Readers’ Wives strewn along a hedgerow.

Bob: You were clearly from the posh end of town. It were all Razzle under our hedgerows. Hey, what a great Radiophonic noise when Foggy finally gets the metal detector working! I can imagine Malcolm Clarke slaving away for hours on that. Inbetween putting the finishing touches to the Earthshock soundtrack.

Andrew: Back on the hillside, Foggy thinks he’s stumbled across something Roman. It isn’t, of course. Instead, he’s found a beer can – Julius Tetley – and it’s off to the pub.

Bob: My dad would doubtless have called that an ‘ancient Roman beercan’! A nice, warm episode, anyway.

Andrew: I had some fun with this episode, particularly the scenes with the whole gang in the café, but it pales in comparison to the last two. You’re spoiling us, Mr. Clarke.

Series 6 Episode 4: A Bicycle Made for Three

In which our trio ‘get it continental style’…

Andrew: Have we reached another milestone? Does this qualify as our first truly iconic episode of Last of the Summer Wine? I think that clip from the climax of this episode, in which our trio tumble headfirst over the handlebars of their bicycles, is probably one of the most often used to represent the series in documentaries or highlights packages.

Bob: Yes, that clip has come to embody ‘three silly old sods plummeting downhill’ public perception of the series, hasn’t it? Whenever I mention our ongoing quest to non-Summer Wine fans, they always make reference to this kind of escapade. Which is a shame, as the absolute bedrock of the series for me is the dialogue and characterisation. All the rest is largely window dressing. Here you go, from the opening sequence…

Compo: I tried for a reserved occupation.

Foggy: There was no-one more reserved about taking an occupation than you.

A laugh-out loud joke with a wealth of information about both characters attitudes, backgrounds and personalities, all within the space of two lines. Perfect.

Andrew: There’s a lot of location work in this episode and it’s all beautifully shot, but doesn’t the transfer look manky? Doctor Who fans have been spoilt rotten with the amount of care and attention that’s been exercised in restoring that series’ many episodes, and the thought that the original film elements of many of these Summer Wine episodes could just be lying in a vault gathering dust is almost too much to take.

Bob: This probably makes me some sort of heathen, but I rather like a bit of grit and grain on vintage 16mm film sequences. Gives them a bit of character and period charm. I can spend hours watching a trapped hair fizzing away in the corner of the screen.

Andrew: I’d have to check the novel again to see whether it originates there, but the gag with the trio careening down a hill upon one bicycle is used again, in almost identical fashion, in the Getting Sam Home feature-length special the following year.

Bob: Spoilers!

Andrew: And who would have thought that a thirty-year-old episode of Last of the Summer Wine would become so topical in hindsight? Not too long ago, a video in which former American sitcom star Kirk Cameron and Christian minister Ray Comfort displayed support for the ‘Banana Theory’ went viral. The Banana Theory, in case you’re wondering, posits almost exactly what Clegg states in this episode, ‘If there’s no guiding hand behind the universe, how come bananas are just the right shape for your mouth’. Have a look!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z-OLG0KyR4]

I wonder if they were fans (joke)? Within the context of Summer Wine, Clegg gets away with it, but as an argument for intelligent design it just doesn’t hold up at all.  Who would have thought that the battle of Darwinism and fundamental Christianity would intrude upon our little oasis of tranquillity?

Bob: Wait until we get round to Open All Hours. There’s a full episode in which Granville and Mrs Featherstone discuss the implications of Sartre’s theory of Bad Faith and the direct contradictions it posits to Freud’s theories of the unconscious.

Andrew: Another couple of names for the database; Lily Matthews – With his scruffy khakis, Compo never had a chance with this RAF-mad girl. Lily was ugly, but only from the front. Then we get Mildred, a loud welder, apparently.

'I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple'

‘I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple’

Bob: And then we meet a new character – Junk-shop owner Percy Westerfield, or ‘Dirk’ as he now insists on being called. As soon as he appeared, I shouted ‘JOE MELIA!’ with unseemly abandon, making both dogs scatter in panic across the front room. A fine character actor, Joe Melia… beloved of us science fiction geeks for playing Mr Prosser in The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, but he’s also the delightfully amoral journalist Ron Rust in A Very Peculiar Practice, the viewing of which – like archery practice on a Sunday – should be on the statute books as a compulsory weekly activity for all adults.

Good to see Dirk wearing a classic comedy slogan T-Shirt as well… ‘I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple’ is emblazoned unashamedly across his chest. The comedy T-shirt is a quintessentially 1980s phenomenon, and a couple of years before this episode aired you could barely move in Britain’s High Streets for ‘I Shot JR’ T-shirts hanging from shop windows. And wobbling beer guts. The practice still exists in the minds of weird 50-year-old men who proudly strut around in public wearing hilarious ‘If Found, Please Return To The Pub’ T-shirts, but the rest of the world – thankfully – seems to have moved on.

Andrew: I actually quite like Dirk nee Percy as a character and wonder whether we’re going to see him again?

Bob: He’s certainly a great ‘deluded’ character in the classic sitcom style. Despite being the owner of a rather run-down second-hand shop, he still considers himself to be a future millionaire, without ever stooping to being ‘your flash-in-the-pan overnight whizzkid’. Anyway, he allows Compo, Clegg and Foggy to rummage for spare bike parts in the shed, in order to construct a bicycle each to continue their two-wheeled adventures…

Andrew: One thing that really strikes me about this episode, particularly the scenes where the trio are putting their bicycles together, is just how much fun they’re having. There’s little in the way of moaning or complaining, and just look at the glee that Foggy and Compo exhibit when gently ribbing one another for their efforts. It’s a little bit special and reminds us why these characters continue to knock about together, despite their many setbacks and fallings-out.

Clegg, officially having fun

Clegg, officially having fun

Bob: Roy Clarke’s very good at that. Amidst all the friction between Summer Wine’s main characters, there’s always something that reminds you that – beneath it all – they’re actually very fond of each other. It can be a single line, or even just a warm glance between the barbs, but it’s always there. Very important.

Andrew: In a move that I expect will upset you, Sid’s Café has undergone some extensive renovations, doing away, as Clegg puts it, with ‘the homely air of neglect’. This doesn’t bother me at all, however, as the set now looks exactly as it did when I was growing up with the show. I think this was my first burst of nostalgia. I wonder if this move to brighten the place up is part of Alan J.W. Bell’s influence on the series.

Bob: Ha! I’ve written exactly that in my notes.‘They’ve redecorated – I don’t like it’. I suspect that, if we watched one of the Blamire episodes again, we’d be surprised at how filthy and run-down all of the sets and locations look in comparison to this brave new era. There was a real grimy, soot-stained bleakness to life in 1973 that was beginning to fade from sight in the spruced-up, computerized 1980s.

I’m glad you’ve got a nostalgia blast, though! You’ll be going all fuzzy on me from here.

Anyway, nice to see Nora and especially Wally making much more regular appearances in this series. Some funny lines for Nora in particular in this scene, including her musings on men. ‘I blame television,’ she grumbles. ‘They see all these funny ideas. People enjoying themselves…’

Andrew: Wally in whites almost doesn’t look like Wally.

Bob: I’m sorry, but you could dress Wally Batty up as Carmen Miranda and he’d still look like Wally Batty. There’s no getting away from THAT FACE.

Andrew: If Gladwin had stuck around for a few more years I’m sure  Roy Clarke would have had him dressed up as Carmen Miranda.

One thing this episode does– probably better than any episode so far – is to skilfully blend Clarke’s verbal humour with the slapstick elements of the series. I didn’t feel short-changed on either front and the episode’s comic climax, in which our trio tumble head first from Foggy’s new take on the tandem bicycle, is rooted within the series logic. Unlike Wally’s pigeon-shaped hang glider, I can totally believe that this is something Foggy would come up with and have the ability to construct.

They've redecorated. We don't like it.

They’ve redecorated. We don’t like it.

Bob: Yes, Foggy joins three bikes together by the handlebars to make a treble-seated monster, and it’s absolutely believable. The scenes in which they road-test the bike look lovely as well… freewheeling fun on a bright summers day.

Andrew: I also really enjoyed the scene with our trio attempted to eat ‘continental style’ outside the café. Ronnie Hazlehurst’s Parisian take on the series’ theme tune is beautiful, and the action is taken straight out of a Laurel and Hardy or Chaplin short from the silent era.

Bob: Absolutely! ‘They’re going to get it continental style’, deadpans Jane Freeman, refusing to allow our scruffy trio to slurp their tea in her newly-refurbished café. It’s such a well-worn 70s double entendre that I heartily applaud Roy Clarke for having the audacity to use it! There’s a whole scene in Are You Being Served – The Movie in which Captain Peacock and Mrs Slocombe debate whether they’d prefer it ‘English or continental style’. Their breakfast, of course. What else?

And you say Chaplin, I’ve written Jacques Tati in my notes! Same difference. Yeah, a lovely little homage to silent cinema, with our heroes’ attempts to eat in the yard being disturbed by unruly schoolkids, careless car-washers and funeral processions alike, all with barely a word spoken. All, as you say, accompanied by Ronnie Hazlehurst’s beautifully Gallic-sounding accordion music. We should probably talk more about Ronnie Hazelhurst on this blog sometime… he’s the unsung hero of Summer Wine. Didn’t he compose completely unique scores for every episode? I can’t think of many other TV shows in which the incidental music is such an integral and recognisable part of the atmosphere.

Andrew: All in all, probably one of my favourites so far.

Bob: Me too. Series 6 has been a joy so far, and I can absolutely understand why this was the year in which the show really began to elevate to national treasure status.

Pages:« Prev12345Next »